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Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. Herodias’s own daughter (named Salome in Josephus) came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore [many things] to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.”

Modern depictions of this event often play up its sexual connotations, portraying Herod Antipas as a lecherous old man salivating as his step daughter performed something called the Dance of the Seven Veils. It turns out this dance is a fiction, and the text says only that it delighted Herod and his guests - so much so that he offered half his kingdom as a reward.

My question is what motivated him? Was it lechery? Should we give him the benefit of the doubt and see his offer as the result of his heart being moved by Salome's innocent dance of modest maidenly beauty? Or was it perhaps the fact that his marriage to Herodias was a subject of public controversy and by making such an offer to Salome in a public setting, Antipas was demonstrating a commitment to accept Herodias' offspring as his own, despite not being her physical father?


NOTE: Interpretations from various denominational perspectives are welcome. I ask the question here rather than BH.se because the text itself provides no direct answer.

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    All Herod had to do was to confess that the head of John the Baptist was worth more than half of his kingdom. Failing to rightly evaluate John and John's ministry, Herod, though desiring to see Jesus (Luke 9:9) never even saw him, much less was invited to follow him, after the rejection of John. A very important lesson to be learned. The three 'Herods' in scripture are not further identified : they are treated as a single entity with one - communal - character, much as the Pharisees are treated in scripture : a class of person characterised by behaviour, without integrity of individuality.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 29, 2023 at 19:41
  • Are you suggesting that unless a person is called "Herod"(a family name) we are not supposed to count them? There are actually five or six of them mentioned in the NT: Herod the Great, his sons Herod Archelaus and Herod Antipas, and his grandsons Herod Agrippa I and Herod Agrippa II. Herod Philip would make six. Oct 29, 2023 at 23:30
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    I am only aware of three Herods myself : the one who murdered children ; the one who murdered John the Baptist ; and the one who murdered the apostle James. I cannot corroborate your historical references. Scripture calls them all 'Herod' as far as I remember.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 30, 2023 at 0:11
  • There are wikipedia articles on all of the Herods that I listed for corroboration. The three you mention are Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, and Herod Agrippa I . All three are indeed called simply Herod or King Herod, except that Revelation refers to "the days of Antipas." Herod Agrippa II is the Agrippa of Acts 25-26. In addition there is Herod Philip (Matthew 14:3) who was the brother of Antipas and first husband of Herodias. Herod Archelaus (Matthew 2:22) is the Herod that Joseph avoided when he decided to settle in Nazareth. Oct 30, 2023 at 16:57

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All Herod had to do was to confess that the head of John the Baptist was worth more than half of his kingdom.

Failing to rightly evaluate John and John's ministry, Herod, though desiring to see Jesus (Luke 9:9) never even saw him, much less was invited to follow him, after the rejection of John. A very important lesson to be learned.

The three 'Herods' in scripture are not further identified : they are treated as a single entity with one - communal - character, much as the Pharisees are treated in scripture : a class of person characterised by behaviour, without integrity of individuality.

This Herod behaves with no discernible repentance, though he heard John's words. He was moved by political and social motives, not spiritual desires. Rather than receive rebuke, he incarcerates. Rather than be righteous, he murders.

He is a slave to the opinion of others (his 'wife' and the onlookers) without an integrity of his own.

None of the Herods lasted long after they murdered : the blood of the murdered children, the blood of John the Baptist and the blood of James, brother of John cried out from the ground, and judgment soon fell upon each Herod in turn.

These are the motivations of Herod. Whatever his thoughts and feelings were about festivities, it matters little.

What matters is his rejection of John's ministry (a baptism of repentance) ; his rebuttal of righteous rebuke ; and his murderous behaviour.

And, of course, his unlawful 'marriage' which was actually adultery.

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  • do I infer correctly that your answer is "political and social motives" rather than either lust or fatherly delight? Oct 29, 2023 at 23:32
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    @DanFefferman Herod was motivated by adulterous desires, by a desire to avoid changing his behaviour (by way of penitence) by greed, by the love of being exalted in the eyes of others : in all, by a pretentious and unrealistic attitude to his own place in the universe. Which can all be summed up as 'political and social motives' : yes indeed.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 30, 2023 at 0:09
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    I am upvoting this answer as useful and insightful, especially about Antipas as " a class of person characterised by behaviour, without integrity of individuality... He was moved by political and social motives, not spiritual desires." Oct 30, 2023 at 17:11
  • This answer seems to imply that Herod initiated the beheading. He didn't. He had made an oath (silly as it was), but was obligated to fulfill. What motivated him? Had nothing to do with his feelings about John, his ministry, or Herod's makeup or lust. It was an oath, like the king's in Esther's story. Or Jephthah's oath (Judges 11).
    – SLM
    Oct 31, 2023 at 13:51
  • @SLM Herod was not under any 'obligation' whatsoever. He stated 'to the half of my kingdom' and it is up to him to evaluate the worth of the life of John the Baptist against the worth of half of his own kingdom. I absolutely and fundamentally disagree with you on moral, legal and logical grounds.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 31, 2023 at 15:00
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It is an interesting contrast between Herod and Ahasuerus of Esther's time. Both offer half their kingdom.

Then said the king unto her [Esther], What wilt thou, queen Esther? and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom. Est 5:3

In Esther's case, she saved her people from destruction. In Salome's case, she had a person killed.

But to the OP.

OP: My question is what motivated him [to offer half his kingdom]?

In researching the original (Esther) usage, this was said.

[5:]3. it shall be even given thee to the half of the kingdom--This mode of speaking originated in the Persian custom of appropriating for the maintenance of great men, or royal favorites, one city for his bread, another for his wine, a third for his clothes, &c., so that the phrase denoted great liberality. Jamieson

And here is Benson.

Benson Commentary Esther 5:3. What is thy request? &c. — So far was the king from accounting her an offender, that he was glad to see her, and desirous to oblige her. Thus God, in his providence, often prevents the fears, and outdoes the hopes of his people. It shall be given thee to the half of the kingdom — A usual form of speech among kings, when their hearts are enlarged and overflow with affection to others, or when they give persons the freest liberty to ask what they please. The meaning is, Nothing in reason shall be denied thee.

So, Herod's heart was filled with wine, women, and song. He gushed a promise, perhaps thinking okay it might cost me a few shekels, but little did he consider the hatred of others to use him for their goals.

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  • +1 ... Important insight about the meaning of "half of my kingdom." A head full of "wine, women and song" provides a answer that might be closer to the truth than any of the choice I initially offered. Oct 30, 2023 at 17:06
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Jesus calls Herod ' that fox' (Lk 13:32). As such, you could never expect a straightforward deal with Herod. Remember that the entire episode of the Baptist's martyrdom is narrated as a flashback in Chapter 6 of Mark, whereas it could have found a place in first or second chapter. It is quite possible that the chronological order of a few events got mixed up in the flashback. Herod knew beforehand that Salome would consult her mother and ask for the Baptist's life. But he was no fool for suggesting in the very beginning, that she asks for half the kingdom! That alternative suggestion may have been made by Herod, only after Salome had expressed her wish. This was done either with a genuine concern to spare the Baptist, or just to present himself as a righteous king , a king who was ready to forego half the kingdom to save a prophet , before his guests.

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  • So, to understand clearly, you are suggesting that the story has not been transmitted accurately and Herod was actually offering her "half his kingdom" in order to spare the Baptist? Oct 30, 2023 at 17:16
  • Mark 6:19-20 states that though Herodia wanted to kill John, Herod feared and protected him as a Holy and righteous person. It was more from political diplomacy than from personal affinity that Herod had a second thought on the boon granted to Salome and offered her half the kingdom in order to spare John. One should never question the accuracy of the story that has been transmitted by Mark . But the chronology of the events may have been a bit different. That does not in any way compromise the infallibility of the Gospel. Oct 31, 2023 at 0:31
  • In may orientel nations, male offspring of the ruling King inherited the kingdom on the death of or abdication of the throne by the latter. Suppose that Salome asked for half the kingdom. Would she be crowned King of that part ? I doubt. If she was married, kingship would go to her husband and she would be his Queen. Oct 31, 2023 at 0:45
  • Moreover, Herod was only a vassal of Roman Empire , and had no locus standi in donating a part of the land he was administering in the capacity of Tetrach to a girl who was not his offspring . Oct 31, 2023 at 3:36
  • Sorry for the spelling mistake. Please read ' Tetrarch'. Oct 31, 2023 at 7:30
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Herod Antipas' Motivation in Offering Half his Kingdom to Salome (Mark 6:21-23)?

This expression has been made three times in Sacred Scriptures and by two kings!

  • Both kings were non-Jewish kings (Ashauerus and Herod Antipas).
  • Both recipient of these promises were women.
  • Both kings were drunk, during making such promises apparently or indulging in wine drinking.
  • Both women had a strong relationship to the king, respective.
  • Both women had consolers that motivating them to do what they did and ask for what is to be asked.

So what were his motivations, when Herod Antipas made the claim to Salome that he would give her anything up to half his kingdom.

First of all, Herod was a puppet king under Rome and the kingdom was not really his, but Rome’s.

At the time of this boast, Herod had already plenty to drink, so the wine in fact had already clouded his judgements. For he regretted putting John to death.

As for his real motives, it is all to clear that Herod was a show off and lived a life of debauchery. He lived with his brother’s wife and cared less what others thought of it. No doubt that when Salome danced before him, he desired her sexually. Even Herodias saw this in Herod and was able to coax Salome unto asking the one thing, Herod did not want to give into: The execution of John the Baptist.

Herod being a show off, could not publicly go back on his words, and Herodias threw her daughter at Herod so to speak. You can fill in the gaps now....

Surely Herod did not care who he slept with or killed.

Better to be a pig than a family member of Herod Antipas!

The Romans had conquered the Promised Land in the first century BC and ruled it through their puppet king, Herod the Great, whom the Roman senate declared “King of the Jews.” Herod’s tenure as king was marked by his oppressive unpredictability. No one knew exactly what to expect from him. Even his own family members were murdered when he felt threatened by their popularity. In this light, the Roman emperor, Augustus, quipped that it was better to be one of Herod’s pigs than one of his sons. “In the time of Herod king of Judea. . . ”

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Hyperbole: Figure of Speech

The "half of the kingdom" in reward offer is a figurative expression of great reward or gratitude (see Standard Hero Reward). This phrase is often used in literature, folklore, and storytelling to signify an incredibly generous or significant reward or token of appreciation. It is a well-known trope in various narratives, where the promise of "half the kingdom" serves as a symbolic and grand gesture of recognition and honour for the recipient's actions or deeds.

Some examples:

  • In the play "King Lear" by William Shakespeare, the title character makes a similar offer to his daughter, saying, "Then say you'll share half of my kingdom."
  • The phrase is also used in the fairy tale "One Thousand and One Nights" (Arabian Nights), where it is a common motif in the stories told by Scheherazade, often as a reward for a character's bravery or wisdom.
  • In modern popular culture, the expression has been used in various books, movies, and television shows to convey the idea of an exceedingly lavish or extraordinary reward.

You obviously don't mean to give someone half of your kingdom, it's just a figure of speech; or if someone really dares to ask the King, since he is bound by his oath, then it maybe too risky afterwards that you get killed by the King after receiving the reward. In the case of Antipas' stepdaughter Salome, there is nothing sexual going on there, those who suggest such an imagination are misguided, and obviously fail to understand literary narratives.

The study notes in some Bibles mentions that it should be seen as a figure of speech rather than a literal promise; it is an exaggeration or a hyperbole.

Compare: Esther 5:3,6, 7:2. On 5:3 NCB notes states "Even . . . half of my kingdom: a customary hyperbole (see Mk 6:23)"

Esther 5:3 Then the king asked, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even if it should be half of my kingdom, it will be given to you.”

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